In a political version of "Trading Spaces," the two main candidates for California's U.S. Senate seat in the Nov. 2 election journeyed to the hearts of each other's turf Wednesday to troll for voters in what would seem to be unlikely -- and unrewarding -- corners of the state.
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer started the day rallying about 50 supporters at a Fresno restaurant a few miles from the home of Republican challenger Bill Jones, who capped his day with two appearances in this liberal seaside community a little more than an hour south of San Francisco.
Boxer stuck to her recent approach of mostly ignoring Jones in her comments, but Jones' theme was to again castigate Boxer for last year's vote against the Bush administration's request for $87 billion to support military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jones, speaking before about 20 College Republicans in a UC Santa Cruz classroom, ripped Boxer for "her continual votes over an extended period of time not to give the military the kind of tools they need."
His comments played off a statement the campaign released earlier in the day accusing Boxer of "a history of voting against national defense expenditures and a history of voting against supplies and pay raises for our troops. In each case, she tries to explain her vote by saying it was for the wrong type of defense or some other issue in the bill that caused her to vote no."
Jones told the students that Boxer voted for military engagements while fellow Democrat Bill Clinton was in the White House, but against such actions under both Bush administrations.
"It's partisan," Jones told the audience.
Boxer spokesman Roy Behr rejected Jones' criticism as a misinterpretation of Boxer's votes, which Boxer has defended by arguing that the bill improperly provided the Halliburton Co. and other defense contractors with blank checks.
"As he has done since Day One of this campaign, Bill Jones continues to misrepresent Barbara Boxer's record," Behr said, arguing that Boxer supported another measure that would have supplied more equipment for ground soldiers.
"She has consistently supported doing more for the troops and doing more to protect their safety," Behr said.
"She simply voted against a blank check for Iraqi reconstruction, a position with which the majority of Californians agree," he said.
The exchange wasn't likely to elevate the profile of a race that has trundled along in relative obscurity.
A new Los Angeles Times poll this week found Boxer had a 22-point lead over Jones, who has little money and has not aired any television ads that could help increase voter awareness or whittle away at Boxer's support.
Jones scheduled two public events Wednesday, one hosted by the UC Santa Cruz College Republicans on the campus, and the other an evening fundraiser with the Lincoln Club of Santa Cruz County, where Democrats account for 53% of registered voters and Republicans constitute 24%.
Jones' positions had not circulated widely among the student Republicans, who said they were focusing more on the presidential race.
But they cited their desire to elect Jones to give Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger an ally in the Senate.
"We think it's time for a change in California ... and Bill Jones is part of that change," said Mirren Stegman, 20, a legal studies junior from Los Angeles and president of the Santa Cruz College Republicans.
Derek Johnston, 21, a politics senior from Arcadia, acted as a human billboard holding a "Jones for Senate" sign outside the classroom, and near a bulletin board papered with fliers promoting ski trips, singing groups and a "Women as Social Warriors" panel discussion.
Johnston said he heard Jones speak at a College Republicans conference in the spring and came away impressed.
"He just personally came off as a very decent guy, and somebody who could really help California," Johnston said.
Earlier in the day, Boxer rallied supporters at the Veni, Vidi, Vici, a Fresno restaurant. She condemned Bush administration polices that she said have "left us with deep, deep deficits ... and the worst job creation record in 70 years."
Boxer also criticized the Iraq war, which she said has left 1,080 American troops dead with "frankly, no end in sight." And she accused the Bush administration of making an empty promise by failing to fully fund the No Child Left Behind education program.
Boxer mentioned the two days of downpours that have fallen across much of the state, saying the rains had helped "people see clearly because the fog is away and the smog is away."
"I think they're going to do the right thing on election day," Boxer said. "And I think we're going to celebrate."
Billie MacDougall, 72, a longtime Boxer supporter, showed up an hour before the senator, grabbing a good parking spot and a good seat.
MacDougall, a retired Navy budget analyst whose son is serving with the California National Guard in Iraq, said she didn't need to be sold on Boxer, even though she's being challenged by a hometown favorite -- Jones represented Fresno in the state Assembly for 12 years before serving two four-year terms as secretary of state.
"We know him, he's a nice guy, but he couldn't be as effective for us," MacDougall said. "My main issues are freedom of choice and doing the right thing with the war in Iraq. I trust Barbara Boxer to make decisions on those things for me. I would not trust Bill Jones."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
This 30-second spot is Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer's first Spanish-language television ad; it began airing Tuesday on Spanish-language stations across California. It is Boxer's third television ad. Republican challenger Bill Jones has yet to air any ads.
Title: "Best Place"
Image: Boxer home video of the family at a beach and along a boardwalk.
Script: "Barbara Boxer moved to California because she and her husband knew it was the best place to raise a family."
Image: Boxer with children, then a video collage of a school science lab, a child's medical checkup and a college student on campus, ending with Boxer chatting with teenagers.
Script: "That's why she works to make sure California stays the same way. As senator, she's supported more funding for teachers, schools and textbooks. Programs to offer all children health insurance. And more financial aid for college. Sen. Barbara Boxer. Protecting our families and educating our children."
Image: Boxer family home video footage.
Script: "I'm Barbara Boxer, and I approved this message."
Analysis: In keeping with her overall ad campaign theme, "Best Place" tries to link Boxer with such popular domestic issues as education and healthcare. She also seeks to raise her profile among Latino voters without mentioning Jones, not giving him much space to craft a response or facts to challenge.
Source: Boxer campaign
Los Angeles Times